Boxing Day Gaming

Lord of the Rings hasn’t come out as much recently as it did in the first couple years after its release; the high score sheet in my box indicates I’ve played only 3 times this year, and only a total of 7 times with the Sauron expansion (I don’t recall ever playing with anyone else’s copy, so that sounds about right for total plays). The total play count, though, is now up to about 40, with the Friends and Foes expansion getting somewhat short shrift (only 5 plays, and no combined Sauron/Friends & Foes games). Anyway. Kim got to play Sauron this time, while Milton, Linda, Jeff, Roger, and I were the good guys. Things were looking good through Moria, which we managed to escape with minimal pain, but then things proceeded to get ugly in Helm’s Deep as Linda pulled 7 bad tiles in a row, including some 4 (I think) events. This, combined with some timely Nazgul play by Kim, hammered us badly. We then got whacked almost immediately in Shelob’s lair, for a total score of 41 points, lowest ever (on my sheet anyway) for a Sauron game. We bought Gollum, which I think was our big mistake – we then lost players on the very next even to a lack of shields, which was bad.

Wizard then came out again, a standby when we have 6 and only an hour or so. We played with blind bidding (using the version of the game that comes with the bidding wheels), a variant I didn’t take to initially but that has grown on me. With open bidding, the bid comes out “even” often, but with the blind bidding you can get some tricky situations, especially in the middle game. On balance I’d rather have been playing Die Sieben Siegel, just because we play Wizard so much, but its weakness is that it only goes up to 5.

Last was Global Powers, another new small-press game from Essen that is basically another area-control game, but it’s got lots of interesting thematic stuff that you can do once you control an area – grow the economy, buy military, go to war with your neighbors, lobby the UN, etc. The rules for this game are a bit dicey (even in the German … they seem to contradict themselves on when you have a Coalition Government and when to use the tie-breaker rules). The game was fun in principle, but had a few flaws. Firstly, the game time estimate on the box is ah, well, not entirely accurate. It says 45min to 2hr, but our 5-player game took over 2 hours to play only 2 turns, out of a maximum possible 4 turns (although turns will get significantly shorter as the game goes on, as players lose politicians from the game each turn). I can’t see much way to get the game down to 45 minutes. Secondly, there is an issue with virtual player elimination. If you get to the point that you don’t control a government anywhere, you may be completely hosed as virtually every game action requires you to control a government somewhere. It may also be too expensive to bring politicians on to the board; again, you can’t do it without controlling a government somewhere, and it’s rather expensive even then, so it might lead to being a bit hard to alter your current situation.

Still, all this being said, this still is a very flavorful game with a lot of interesting choices. I liked the event cards, which seemed powerful and dramatic, but not overly so once you knew what was out there. The threat of military action seems to drive a lot of the game, and I liked how that whole system worked. So both Kim and I thought it would be good for another go (others at the table were not so inclined; Milton gave it a thumbs down, although Roger liked it). If the playing time could be brought down to 2 hours or less by familiarity (a possibility), it still has a chance to be a pretty decent game; but the jury is still out.

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Game Night

Attika has proven very popular with everyone I’ve introduced it to – to me, surprisingly popular in fact. We played twice tonight, once with 3 and once with 4. Both games went to the connectivity victory, although the second game was very close and could have gone to the 30 buildings because we had gotten much more aggressive in using the extra map tiles as blockers. Very nice game, my only complaint is that it is very dry and analytical so it can be subject to the lock-up problem. So not perfect, but quite good. Better than the two previous favorites for Chris’ Game of the Year (Domaine and Amun-Re)? Tough call, probably not, but I like Amun-Re a bit better than most people seem to.

Wizard was pretty much the same old same old, but a good closer and with 6 players not too long. I’m getting back into the zone with this one, I was in third but not a distant third. I blame this partially on weak hands, I think I never bid above one and I was not being excessively conservative; I only had one Wizard all game. Never one of my strongest games, but it’s survived a lot of play and I still enjoy it.

Can’t Stop, Smarty Party, Wizard

Not much to say on Can’t Stop and Wizard – except that I’m always impressed at how well they’ve held up to repeated play. They’re still filler, sure, but really good filler. Wizard is great because it’s so good with 6, and it’s probably best at that number (3 and 4 can take absolutely forever to play, not so good).

As for Smarty Party, a new game from R&R games … I can take it or leave it. Plusses: it’s short, the pace is pretty brisk so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is modestly amusing. Minus: the game is all in the lists, and the subjects chosen did not inspire. With us, it was all or nothing, and the classic trivia “you know it or your don’t”, with no scope for educated guessing. Nobody in our group watches The West Wing or Sponge Bob Squarepants, so when that came out, we were hosed; The Fellowshp of the Ring, on the other hand … compare with the Lord of the Rings Trivia Game. The only really interesting list was “ways to kill a vampire and major financial indicies”, although to give you an idea of how ludicrously xenophobic this game is, the Nikkei and DAX are apparently not major financial indicies but AMEX is. The lists also often reduce large categories like Grimm’s Fairy Tales using a “well known” prefix, which usually just leaves knowledgeable players wondering which stories are “well known”. The lists could have been a lot more interesting, as it was it was just a trivia quiz without any inherent interest, nobody saying “that’s interesting” after hearing the answers. Not terrible, but not one I’d really be interested in playing again.